Described as “a year-long ‘action research’ project / durational performance”, the Glasgow Effect will involve Harrison not travelling outside Greater Glasgow during 2016 in an attempt to “test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic”.
The move to further explain the project comes after it attracted a barrage of criticism on social media and articles in the local and national press following an initial post on Facebook on 31 December. In her latest post, published last night, Harrison says: “Glasgow has been my home for seven-and-a-half years and to suddenly have a response like this to one of my projects has been quite overwhelming.”
Many of the hundreds of comments posted on the project’s Facebook page focus on the Creative Scotland funding, the result of an application to the organisation’s Open Project Fund. Most wrongly make the assumption that Harrison is being given £15,000 to do nothing all year.
The title of the project has also been singled out for criticism – the term ‘the Glasgow Effect’ was initially coined in relation to poor health and low life expectancy in parts of the city – with some accusing the artist of insulting and patronising the city’s poorest areas.
Many of the comments on social media have been offensive and personal. One outraged critic, Euan Plater, has even been moved to create a change.org petition demanding that Creative Scotland CEO Janet Archer ‘revoke the budget given by Creative Scotland for the Glasgow Effect’.
Plater’s contribution to the Facebook ‘debate’ described Harrison’s project as “a disgusting, offensive and condescending pile of filth”, adding that Harrison wasn’t an artist but was in fact “an undereducated leech, trying their best to make a statement”.
Known for her campaigning artworks around subjects such as the nationalisation of the railways (Bring Back British Rail), notions of democracy (This Is What Democracy Looks Like), and arts funding (the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund), Harrison addresses the funding of the project in her Facebook post.
She explains that the Creative Scotland application came about “in order to fulfil one of the criteria of my 3.5 year ‘probation’ for my lecturing post at the University [Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee]. I was required to ‘write and submit a significant research grant application’. After one unsuccessful attempt, on 20 October 2015 I was awarded the grant”. She has now also published the full funding application on glasgoweffect.tumblr.com.
Harrison adds that, since getting the grant, she has been “negotiating an agreement with the university to ‘donate’ the £15,000 to them in exchange for paid ‘research leave’ in order to undertake the project. In this agreement I have been careful to stipulate that the money be used solely to cover my teaching responsibilities and that a post be advertised externally, in order to: a) create a job opportunity for a talented artist in Scotland b) provide the best possible experience for my students in my absence.
She continues: “The fact that this university, like most others in the UK, now requires its lecturing staff to be fundraisers and is willing to pay them to be absent from teaching as a result, should be the focus of this debate.”
Describing the project, she says: “Like any provocative artwork, The Glasgow Effect has been devised to operate on many levels at once, and the questions about ‘community’ being raised on/off social media these last few days is certainly one of them.
“As much as I do care sincerely about the environmental issues raised by the project as my previous work should testify, I also want to highlight the absurd mechanisms at play within Higher Education which were its initial impetus.”
Commenting directly on the massive response the project has attracted on social media, she says: “You have given me so much material to digest, it will take the whole year to do so. I hope to follow-up by meeting many of you face-to-face, when all the fuss has died down…
“At least now, thanks to you all, I have ticked Creative Scotland’s ‘Public Engagement’ box and fulfilled the University’s ‘Impact’ agenda and so can get on with the real work.”
Responding to public criticism and media reports, Creative Scotland has issued a statement defending its funding of Harrison’s project and to show its support for the artist.
It says: “Her idea, articulated in a strong proposal which met all the criteria for open project funding, focused on exploring whether it’s possible for an artist to generate an existence for themselves by living, working and contributing to a single community, as opposed to being constantly on the road because of the need to earn money from commissions from different places that incur costly travel and accommodation costs and high carbon footprint usage.
“Ellie’s project is based on the premise that if society wishes to achieve global change, then individuals have to be more active within their communities at a local level… Our funding will support Ellie’s creative practice in Glasgow and we will be interested to see how the project progresses.”